Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cooking for the Shelter

This week Nana agreed to help me take dinner to the shelter in Redmond. They have recently increased their bed count, so now we take dinner for 20-25 hungry young people, which is bordering on too much. Well, perhaps not too many people, but it requires a lot of planning, and careful choices about menu. And you know who I want on my team when there is a cooking project that requires planning and choices? Nana. This week I decided to go with pulled pork, which is crockpotted in 2 crockpots, baked potatoes and salad. My fatal error was to also deciding to cook an apple crisp.

I picked up Nana at 5, and we got back to my house to start with dinner around 5:30. We figured we'd assemble the crisp, cook it, and then do the potatoes (which I foil wrapped beforehand), so that the potatoes would still be warm at dinner. It's ok to laugh a little at this point- we need to deliver dinner at 8:30, and that stuff is simply not all going to happen in that three hour window. Nana and Matt started slicing apples while I made the top and preheated the oven. The crisp went in the oven around 6:30, and I was already starting to think better of my plan. Instead of turning the oven up (since a crisp can pretty much cook between 350 and 425), I just threw the potatoes in there as well. This will get us to the punchline in about an hour.

Next, we shredded 16 pounds of meat. I was feeling good about this- it was tasty, and for once seemed like plenty of food. At about 7, I nuked up some lasagna and the three of us had a simple dinner. Matt kept bragging to Nana that this was special, I usually forget to feed us on the nights I take dinner to the shelter.

At 7:30, I got up from the table, ready to start thinking about how we would move all this stuff, and wondering why we weren't overwhelmed with the luscious smells out of the oven. Picture this, I have a 15x11x4 foil pan brimming with apple crisp on the bottom rack, surrounded by foil wrapped potatoes on all sides, and above that is a tray of more foil wrapped potatoes, which is also surrounded by potatoes. (Dinner for 25, right?) The edges of the crisp seemed bubbly but the middle was... still crisp. Gulp. I figured, if the potatoes were done, I would just pull them out of the way and the heat would get more even in the oven. Worse news, the potatoes are also crisp. My eyes are getting bulgy now.

There is a moment, usually about 7:30, when we are planning to take dinner to the shelter and I think, "Nevermind. This won't work. Is it too late to cancel?" This was that moment.

Nana breezes in to the kitchen and says, "Hm, why don't you turn up the oven? And can you nuke those potatoes?" and then she goes on to cleaning up from all the dinner and cooking. Yes and Yes!  By this point Matt has looked up a real recipe for making baked potatoes (1hr at 425), and we crank up the heat. He starts pulling potatoes out of their foil jackets in pairs and throwing them in the microwave for a couple minutes at a time, then rewrapping them. Matt is watching the clock like a hawk, but I'm confident that dinner can be served eventually. I start loading up the car. Juice. Buns. BBQ sauce. Butter and sour cream. Lasagna pan full of pork. Salad. The longer the potatoes have been in the oven, the less nuking they need. The crisp is starting to soften and smell lovely. We get the last soft potato in the car and hurtle down to Redmond to serve.

I'm feeling grateful that I can afford to donate dinner, and that I have family to support me in the effort, but still a little bashful that we might be a couple minutes late and a fair bit frazzled. When we arrive, the shelter is dark. For one second, I wonder if I misread the calendar, but no, homeless shelters don't take days off. Turns out, we aren't the only ones feeling flustered tonight, the key has gone missing, and the staff are waiting for someone to let them in.

As we wait patiently, more people start hanging out in this dark parking lot, and I'm feeling really glad that we have a trunk full of tasty food to share. Once the door is open, we breeze in like this is no big deal, unpacking and delivering while the now flustered staff and trying to recover from their shortened prep time as well. By the time we left, it seemed like a huge crowd was waiting outside. Several of the guests thanked us for bringing dinner, and we slinked back to out nice warm homes. The next day I got an email that they had more people than beds that night, but they were able to offer dinner, even seconds, to everyone who was there that night.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

New Benchtops for HiveBio

HiveBio is a DIYBio lab, which means we are putting together a lot of our own equipment. We built our own microscopes, our own shelves, and so its not surprising that we also built our own benches. The original benches in the lab were study, but had wood tops. In a traditional science lab, the lab benches (where you stand to do work) have chemical-proof, flame-proof surfaces. We've only been open a few months now, but the wooden top benches are one of the clues that we aren't a "real" lab.

It's not that hard to talk my Dad in to a construction project these days. When he came to the lab opening party, I mentioned that someday we wanted flame retardant tops, and the very next week I got an update since he happened to be at the tile store 50 miles from his house. And they happened to have the perfect thing for the lab that they were totally willing to donate. These are benchtops from an old school. They were worn, but certainly salvageable and durable. Props to Tile Lines for this generous gift.

Benchtops in need of refinishing.

He brought home 3 tops. He refinished them by spending many gritty hours sanding them down. 
Just a few hours of sanding and buffing, and all those streaks come off.

He painted them all with concrete finish, and now they look really nice. 
The first benchtop, resealed and finished on a brand new sturdy base.

Of course, looking nice in my driveway wasn't quite the end goal. The final step was to load each of the ~150lb slabs back in the truck, deliver them to the lab, and navigate them through the twisty turn corridors of the building. Fortunately, we were able to recruit some students on that day, and my dad played ignorance if mainland social norms ("what do you mean the grass isn't for driving on?") and the unload process took only a few minutes. 

He spent some money and a lot of hours, but it's a major facelift to the lab, and an important step to help us with capacity building. Fantastic. If you want to see the final product, come by the lab sometime.

And btw- the thermometer is hovering around 75% right now.